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Anxiety, Predictability & ADHD

With school over and summer ahead, routines that may have finally found a rhythm during this time of sheltering at home are now disrupted or even nonexistent. This normal transition in a time that isn’t at all normal can lead to a whole new round of stress and anxiety at home!

Often your child or teen cannot put their anxiety into words. It can show up as opposition, arguing, withdrawal into screen time and other challenging and unwanted behaviors.

Predictability or knowing what to expect is key to calming the anxiety which lies under the surface for your child or teen. Imagine the last time you went for even a minor medical procedure or test. Do you remember the nurse or technician letting you know what was about to happen for each step and how much that helped you feel calmer? (And if not, how that made you feel?)

I’ve noticed, as parents, we tend to rely a lot on telling our kids things and then expecting them to hear and remember them rather than utilizing our child’s other senses to process information. Not only are our kids expert at tuning us out, many of our kids aren’t even strong at auditory processing.

Today’s tip is to use visual predictability to calm the anxiety under the surface and to steer away from rewards and consequences that are aimed at the tip of the iceberg, at least temporarily. (Read about Why Behavior Is Like An Iceberg.)

Practically speaking, I mean get a basic whiteboard calendar (or create a calendar of your own.) Don’t clutter it with extra notes and stuff.

  1. Mark the major events of the next few weeks with magnets, stickers, colors - let your kiddo decide what they like. By major events, I mean days of vacation, camp, summer school, days at one parent or another’s, etc. You’re making time visual for them.

  2. Next mark events that specifically affect your child - virtual birthday party, peer tutoring, music lessons, etc. Also, mark if a parent will be away from home for some reason. Keep it as simple and uncluttered as possible.

  3. Put it in a common area like the kitchen.

A dad in my parent group came up with a great solution for his 12-year-old who has ADHD. As we brainstormed, he told me they already have a family calendar in the kitchen which has all relevant events for family members on it. He came to realize though, how helpful it would be to attribute a certain color highlight to his kid’s activities. That way his kiddo’s attention would be drawn to the relevant events rather than having to sort them out from a big mishmash (i.e. not looking at the calendar at all.)

Last, but not least, look at the calendar together every morning at breakfast and every night doesn’t hurt too. Oh, today’s your friend’s birthday party. Oh look, tomorrow you start camp, etc.

If you create a predictable rhythm of looking at the calendar together, that can add to feeling even more settled.

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